Chuao Dark Chocolate
Five of the best chocolates made from Chuao beans
There is perhaps no other cacao producing region of the world more famously extolled or more storied than Chuao Village, Venezuela . Year after year, chocolate makers have fought over the precious few beans produced from a small group of growers who are proud to be part of making the world’s best chocolate. What makes these beans so special is the Criollo lineage and a small cooperative of producers who are serious about maintaining tradition – centuries-old cultivation methods, strict fermentation procedures and beans dried in the sun on the square in front of the old village church.
For years, the highly respected French chocolate house, Valrhona had locked up most of the world’s supply of Chuao beans. I supposed they deserved this honor since they were the pioneers of single-origin chocolate and were working hard to secure the best beans they could find. But their fate would soon change as the world grew hungrier for exceptional chocolate. Around 1991, Alessio Tessieri and his sister Cecilia paid a visit to Valrhona in an attempt to secure chocolate couverture for their Italian confections business, Amedei Tuscany. After all, Valrhona operated a world-renown baking and confection school focused on chocolate and was known as a supplier to serious chefs world-wide.
The meeting didn’t last very long as Alessio and Cecilia were sent home empty-handed. Mort Rosenblum retells the moment in his book, Chocolate, A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light :
Cecilia…still bristles as she recalls the meeting thirteen years later. “They told us that they did not think Italians were ready for their products, and they were not sure we could do them justice,” she said. “Right then and there, it was war.”
From that point on, Alessio set out on a mission to source his own beans and win over the Chuao producers – working with them to solve technical problems and offering to pay higher prices for their beans. After repeated trips over a period of months, Amedei had won. Letters went out from the Chuao producers’ cooperative to Valrhona, Pralus and anyone else using their beans: Chuao beans would go exclusively to Amedei .
The thickness of the bar affects the melt on the tongue and skews the perception of texture. From the top: Domori, Amano, Amedei, Bonnat, and Pralus.
So the tables turned and Amedei locked up Chuao for a several years, but I imagine at some point the Chuao elders said enough’s enough. Now, they’ve started selling to anyone worthy of making chocolate from their cherished beans – a smart move given this can only support healthy prices. Good for the people of Chuao and good for chocolate connoisseurs around the world since now we have more choice and more variety of styles to choose from.
THE BEST OF CHUAO CHOCOLATE
Today, there are at least six to eight chocolate makers offering Chuao bars. Some may use beans strictly from the Chuao Village and others may use beans grown in the greater region close to the village. I’m not interested in spending time researching or arguing about the purity of the beans, exact location of the trees, who harvested their beans by horseback or who went by canoe. Instead, I can taste a handful of bars and get my answers to the question I care about most: which taste best? Yes, I do care about bean origin and species, but I’ve decided to spend my time tasting.
Clockwise from top: Amano, Bonnat, Pralus, Amedei, and Domori in the center. The nicks, scrapes and cracks are from my marathon tasting session.
For this ambitious review, I tried five different bars, some of the best and most widely available. You can see from the table below that the prices don’t vary too much, but be careful to understand the size of bar you are paying for.
||LOCATION OF CHOCOLATE MAKER
||PRICE PER 50g
|Amano Chuao Reserve Dark Chocolate
|Bonnat Chuao Village
|Domori Chuao Criollo
Amano Chuao Reserve Dark Chocolate
OVERALL RATING: 98. Where to buy.
AROMA: Floral, earthy, pepper, ginger, strawberry, apple and a bit of tobacco and leather.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Floral and then fruit: grapefruit and pineapple. This may be the only chocolate I have seen with not one, but two waves of flavor up front – this is complex stuff!
MIDDLE TASTE: Swirling waves of fruit and florals from the middle to the finish: raspberry, lavender, tangy pineapple, strawberry, meringue and honey. You don’t need to search around for flavor; it’s obvious.
FINISH: Long on lavender and florals. Orange blossom, lime, mint and ginger. Some straw earth notes rather than butter that you might find at the end of some bars, but it’s all good.
TEXTURE: Amano Smooth.
Amedei Chuao Dark Chocolate
OVERALL RATING: 93. Where to buy.
AROMA: Pretty closed to start. Croissants, earth, malt, butter and light blueberry.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Delicate, subtle fruit, cherry. Amedei is feminine and elegant.
MIDDLE TASTE: Caramel, café-au-lait, molasses, marshmallow. There’s never any acid. This bar evolves slowly allowing you to grasp the flavors one by one.
FINISH: Banana, light nuts. The finish goes on almost forever and then dissipates into thin air like a fog slowing rising from a field of grass.
TEXTURE: Perfectly smooth.
Bonnat Chuao Village Dark Chocolate
OVERALL RATING: 91. Where to buy.
AROMA: Cranberry, orange, grapes, and florals. Very unique.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Plums, candied fruit, apricot and a flash of orange. The only fruit is up front – a flash and then it moves on to butter.
MIDDLE TASTE: Nuts and butter. There is almost no distinction between the middle and finish. Nuts slowly turn to buttery notes which go on forever. There’s a persistent richness like a rich flourless cake.
FINISH: All cashew and butter. Luscious and opulent.
TEXTURE: A little chewy up front turning all smooth. This perception is created, in part, by the thicker bar.
Domori Chuao DARK CHOCOLATE
OVERALL RATING: 99. Where to buy.
AROMA: Bam! As you tear open the package, the aroma is exploding out of the foil. You’re hit with strong cacao fruit, oak, red wine, cedar and green apple. Domori Chuao shows a very exciting forward nose.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Pineapple and cedar.
MIDDLE TASTE: Riesling wine, red fruit, roses. The fruit acid note comes through in waves throughout, repeatedly rising and falling. Macaroon and nutty notes evoke warmth. They done a good job working out the bitter while preserving the fruit.
FINISH: Chewy butter. Really satisfying moderately complex finish. Raspberry comes back on the finish. There’s a unique coating buttery feel at the end that most people will really enjoy.
TEXTURE: Smooth and luscious with a very pleasing smooth melt.
Pralus Chuao Dark Chocolate
OVERALL RATING: 97. Where to buy.
AROMA: Toast, roast, grapes, plums, raisins, light roasted ham. The aroma on the Pralus is potent and intoxicating.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Citrus notes go into a nutty lull. The citrus notes are short-lived.
MIDDLE TASTE: More fruit than Amedei. Pralus is doing a heavier roast for sure. More overtly sexy than elegant.
FINISH: There’s a complex two-part finish. Part 1: red fruit, strawberry, grapes, watermelon, and plums. Part 2: green apple hangs in back while buttery cacao appears. Sometimes I got some vegetable notes like mushrooms that I’m not fond of, but this is most likely due to a heavier cocoa butter content. The holy grail in wine is complexity a long unoffensive finish. It should be the same for chocolate, so why would I want to “tame” a chocolate at the expense of losing all this. Pralus keeps all the stuff I want. This is a great finish.
TEXTURE: Not ultra-ultra smooth like Amedei, but still very nice and chewy in a satisfying way. Again, the thicker bar causes the chocolate to melt slower on your tongue creating a perception of chewiness vs. smoothness. At the risk of being too simplistic, here’s a quick summary. Don’t get too caught up in the numbers – anything in the 90′s is exceptional:
||IN A WORD
||Aroma, Complexity, & Finish
||Texture & Length of finish
LAST BITE I found that there were two main dimensions of taste that distinguished the bars:
Assertive vs. Tame and More Buttery vs. Less Buttery
An assertive bar is going to have more forward flavor – more obvious fruit, acidity, and masculine notes such as leather and coffee. A tame bar is going to be more elegant, nuanced and feminine. Both can have complexity of flavor, but the flavors are going to be deeper and obvious for chocolate on the assertive end of the scale. Now this is a critical point: I prefer more assertive bars and this probably affects my ratings. There are many of you that want to avoid any kind of acidity – you’re looking for perfect delicate smoothness in a bar that floats above your tongue. If so, Amedei and Bonnat are for you. My wife found the Bonnat sublime. The Bonnat is super-tame almost “Swiss-style” chocolate where there is virtually no acidity or bitterness left.
On the other hand, you might be the type that likes big red wines packed with fruit – Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Red Zinfandel - or maybe a heavier roast on your coffee. If so, I’ll bet you’d go for Amano or Pralus. Domori is a sort of happy medium. In fact, the wine analogy works exceptionally well for Chuao chocolate because the most common flavor note throughout all the bars was grapes.
These chocolates can be compared on the Assertiveness and Buttery scales. There is no perfect sweet spot on this graph – it’s a matter of what you like.
What I call “Buttery” is not about the texture of the chocolate, but the sense of creaminess or lusciousness. It can’t be explained simply by cocoa butter content since, for example, Pralus has the habit of going for higher cocoa butter, but his chocolate sits lower on my Buttery scale. It’s more about your awareness of the cream / butter notes over other dimensions such as roast, nuts, coffee, etc.
Now for the obvious question – which is my favorite? This is a bit like asking what’s my favorite wine – it depends on which day you ask me. I don’t like to drink the same thing every day and I don’t feel like the same chocolate everyday (surprise – I don’t eat chocolate or drink wine everyday either). In line with my love of really robust, assertive bars, I have to give a nod to Amano for the complexity they’ve achieved. It’s near the top for me. The Domori gave a unique and exciting ride with incredible aroma and enough complexity to show that it’s a world-class chocolate.
Still, my wife was so impressed by the tamer bars that I think that’s the way to go if you want something more elegant. Most women I’ve asked have been enormously pleased with the Bonnat and Amedei’s reputation speaks for itself without my help. Should you decide to try them all in one sitting, I recommend starting with Bonnat and working your way up the assertiveness scale to Pralus last. Have fun and invite some help!
 I paid for this the Amano, Amedei, Bonnat and Pralus bars myself. The Domori bar was a sample provided by the distributor.
 Chocolate. A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light. Mort Rosenblum, North Point Press, New York. 2005.
 Chuao is pronounced “Chew-WOW”  Why is this post so long? Look, I ate five of the world’s most important chocolate bars. I needed to say something about them, OK?